Empathy for a victim of any crime is nurtured when you imagine putting yourself in the victim's place. However, in cases of rape, the dynamics are entirely different. Whether we admit or not, empathy in this scenario differs: mostly based on whether you're a man or a woman.
Whenever a case of rape occurs, and if a woman hears about it, an inherent sense of empathy is nurtured towards the victim by associating with location, timing, perpetrator, age and of course their own gender.
However, for boys and men, there is usually a tendency to invoke only a second-hand or outward sense of empathy. And we try to invoke it by the only way we think it can work – often, by saying, "What if she was your sister, mother, daughter?" There is, of course, enough evidence to prove that this approach is flawed and utterly misleading.
Usually it's hard to shake people, both men and women out of their apathy, insensitivity and misogynistic ideals. Yet here's why I believe we have to, eventually stop resorting to our usual analogy: "She could be your daughter/sister/mother":
Most rapists are related/known to the survivors
A significant percentage of rapes are actually committed by brothers, boyfriends, fathers, husbands, uncles, cousins or any male who is known to the survivor (even mooh bola bhais?) NCRB statistics shows that in 94 % of the cases, the offenders were familiar to the victims. So what is the demographic targeted when we're trying to establish a familial connect? Imagining a survivor is a sister/girlfriend/daughter/wife, could actually be counterproductive in cases like these.
What if there was no man in her life?
Let's also suppose she is someone's sister/daughter/wife. What if she is an orphan or has no familial ties? Does that make her an easier person to rape or is she somehow more deserving of rape than a potential victim who supposedly holds strong ties to the men in her life? Did the fact that there's no man in her life who could ‘lose family honour', make her lesser ‘collateral damage'? When a woman is raped, she is a survivor, and when a man rapes, he's a rapist. No presence or absence of men in her life can alter the pain and trauma caused by rape.
Rape is not just an assault on the "honour" of the male relatives, it is way beyond that
It is reinforcement of the patriarchal philosophy: how rape is the loss of honour for the woman and in turn, the male members of the family who supposedly have ‘ownership' over her. Traditionally, women are supposed to be the upholders of "honour" in a family system (ghar ki izzat). In a patriarchal society, hurting a woman's modesty is equivalent to breaking the metaphoric links of her familial chain, she already being the weakest link. Assuming that her pain can only be felt by those she is related to is reinforcement of the very misogynistic idea: she ‘is raped' is an assault or comment on the inability of her brother/father/husband to protect her.
Face the crime for what it is, not for what it's made out to be
Empathy stems from putting yourself in the victim's shoes. By using the sister/daughter/mother analogy, you are subconsciously distancing yourself from the crime and cannot fully comprehend the severity of it firsthand.
Do we ONLY respect women that are our sisters, mothers, daughters?
Men (or boys) should not be raised with the idea that a woman who is not genetically or filially bound to them is unworthy of being shown any kind of empathy. The sister/mother/daughter argument only shows that a woman whom you are not genetically tied to is ‘not human enough' and somehow their victimisation is cause of lesser worry, since they aren't in any way bound to you.
In a nutshell, a woman who is raped deserves every bit of your empathy, compassion, support and respect whether or not you see her as your sister, mother or daughter.
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